For anyone living in or visiting Manchester it is clear that there has been an increase in the number of people on the streets. Many of us want to understand why – what has changed, and is it likely to get better or worse?
Homelessness is a complex issue, and it can be hard to get concrete facts about why more people are becoming homeless. We asked those who work in the sector what they believe are the significant factors, to help make some sense of it all.
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
A person is considered homeless if they have no home in the UK or elsewhere which they could reasonably be expected to occupy. You don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered homeless – many people who are homeless are ‘sofa surfing’, living in hostels or bed and breakfasts.
The term ‘Rough sleepers’ covers people who are sleeping or bedding down on the streets (tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters etc), or in buildings (stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations etc). The definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protest, squatters or travelers.
People who are begging on the streets of Manchester may or may not be homeless, and may or may not be a rough sleeper. It not always easy to distinguish people who are begging from people who are sleeping rough.
One former rough sleeper is Barry who ended up on the streets after his marriage broke down. He says he simply ended up homeless out of circumstances, ‘part of life’s journey’ and does not have many of the underlying mental health and drug and alcohol issues facing many of those affected by homelessness. After 20 years as a mechanic, he now has a job at The Booth Centre, and has volunteered at the Church Night Shelter.
Homelessness in Numbers
Every Local Authority has to carry out official rough sleeper headcount once a year , and the Manchester count in 2015 was 70 individuals. However, this is just a snap shot of the situation on one night of the year. There are national guidelines on how this number is counted.
To give some sense of scale, we know that 244 people accessed the cold weather emergency accommodation last winter.
There are also several hundred homeless households, including former rough sleepers, living in temporary accommodation including council supported housing and B&Bs.
Why is homelessness increasing in Manchester?
There are many reasons why people end up on the streets. The most common reasons for homelessness are relationship breakdown; loss of private tenancy (including the landlord choosing to take back possession at the end of a tenancy, or for rent arrears); or loss of lodgings where family or friends ask someone to leave. Rough sleeping often comes at the end of a long downward spiral into homelessness.
There are some key factors that have contributed to more people becoming homeless in recent years…
- Changes to the welfare system have impacted on vulnerable people.
- There is a lack of affordable housing for people on very low incomes.
- Reductions to local authority budgets have put pressure on services for vulnerable people.
- An increase in people from abroad who are not allowed to access welfare benefits or public services.
There are also some specific situations in which people are at increased risk of homelessness, for example people experiencing domestic abuse, people released from prison, and people leaving hospital.
One example showing the difficulties individuals face is Dariusz, from Poland, who was trafficked into the country illegally by a construction gang several years ago. When the traffickers were discovered by police the workers were freed from the labour they had been doing across the country, but with nowhere to go, Dariusz ended up on the streets of Manchester for a year. Dariusz has stayed at the night stop homeless shelter, but at one time he was sleeping wherever was available, including railway arches in Salford.
Manchester is a vibrant city that attracts many people who are looking for work or who would like to be part of a thriving city. Most settle successfully but the city also attracts some people from other areas who may already be homeless and may end up rough sleeping.
Who can access accommodation and services?
Local authorities only have a legal duty to house certain people, depending on their situation. Everyone has the right to have a homeless assessment which considers whether someone is eligible for assistance, legally homeless, in priority need, if they have made themselves intentionally homeless and if they have a local connection. The outcome of this determines whether the local authority has a legal duty to provide accommodation. (There is more information on homeless rights on the Shelter website.)
There is a range of support available in Manchester, from both the council and the voluntary sector, but resources are stretched. As funding from central government is cut, services are inevitably affected. You can see the range of services available in Manchester from across the voluntary and private sector on Street Support.
Not everyone who is homeless is able to receive the support that is on offer…
- Some people cannot access housing, employment, healthcare services or benefits – this may be due to benefit sanctions or their immigration status, their drug, alcohol, mental health or physical health problems, or because the services they need are over subscribed.
- Some people need ongoing support in moving on from living on the streets – this takes time, and they may have complex needs to work through before they are able to go into the accommodation offered.
- Some people prefer to be on the streets to the other options that are available to them – they may feel lonely, that the options available don’t feel safe or healthy for them, that access to community is important, or feel they need easier access to drugs or alcohol.
Danny, was on the streets for four and a half years after suffering a breakdown and leaving his family home. He says that being that long on the streets makes you lose your self-esteem and confidence and makes it harder to get back on your feet the longer you spend rough sleeping.
What is being done to improve things?
There are many fantastic organisations and initiatives in Manchester. Here are some examples of what is being done in the city to tackle homelessness…
The Manchester Homelessness Partnership brings together the voluntary sector, council, police, businesses, faith groups, volunteers and compassionate individuals together in a shared mission – to End Homelessness in Manchester.
The Manchester Homelessness Charter was launched on 9th May, and since then action groups have been set up to tackle key issues that people with experience of homelessness say are most important. Each group involved people with lived experience, as well as professional experts from different sectors.
There are over 40 homelessness organisations listed on streetsupport.net. Through this central information source they are more able to co-ordinate their services, reduce duplication, and identify and fill gaps in provision.
The council has a rough sleepers team, and are working closely with others in the Homelessness Partnership to review their strategy. They have supported the Homelessness Charter, and are setting up a new Partnership Board chaired by the Bishop of Manchester which will take up recommendations from the action groups. The Police are also working to support rough sleepers to access services.
There is a central ‘Big Change’ fund that has been set up to help rough sleepers with things they need to get off the streets. Find out more and donate.
So, what next?
There are some huge challenges ahead, but also reason for hope. This isn’t something that can be fixed by any one group alone, it needs all of us.
Find out more and get involved at streetsupport.net.